I always answer the question, “Who are you?” with “Hello, I’m John P. Turner, a Social Entrepreneur who is creating business solutions to address social problems.” As a young Black man I’m offended when people call me “Mister,” which is often hyphenated as “Mr.” in print, rather than addressing me by how I label myself. Historically, Black men and Black boys have had their dignity diminished by way of being referred to as the “n-word” and “boy.” Historically, Black men and Black boys have not been taken seriously as being intellectually or socially competitive by the general public, in comparison to their counterparts with similar education levels and socioeconomic statuses. Also, my generation of Black men and Black boys, which includes anyone who is thirty-four years old and younger in 2014, isn’t taken seriously as being social change agents. Similarly, people who don’t care about the social plight of Black men and Black boys today are oblivious of my generation’s efforts to effect social equity.
What more should Black men and Black boys be doing to end institutional racism? Why are people only criticizing Black men and Black boys without offering their suggestions as to how we can better make a positive social impact? Why hasn’t my generation of Black men and Black boys been mentored by seasoned social activists to effect the social change they wish to see? Why don’t people take my generation as seriously as they did the young people during the Civil Rights Movement? These are the questions swarming my mind when people call me “Mr.”, instead of how I present myself to the world, as a Social Entrepreneur who is effecting social change. Given these points, the new status quo is that Black men and Black boys are not recognized for their social advocacy efforts and the important community work that they do.
Surely, people describe and define themselves by their title(s) – so that others understand who they are and what they do. So there’s more to a title than just its name. More specifically, titles have the ability to reflect Black men’s and Black boys’ efforts to end social injustice, generational poverty, and community violence. When I walk into any room wherein professionals are present, be they academicians or community organizers, I am questioned about who I am for either one of two reasons: 1) someone doubts that I deserve to be there or 2) someone wants to know what makes me an exception to their general assumptions about young Black men and Black boys. White people used to refer to Black men and Black boys as the “n-word” and later as “boy” to discredit their dignity. Similarly, “Mr.” is used today by some people as the modern evolution of this thought process for the same purpose.
Consider two examples, one is related to President Barack Obama and the other one is a hypothetical example. I cringe at the covert disrespect of people referring to President Barack Obama as “Mr. Obama” instead of “President Obama” as his predecessors were referenced. President Obama’s qualifications and abilities are still questioned and disrespected in a way that is different from his predecessors based on his race. For example, Clint Eastwood joked about President Obama as he spoke to an invisible chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention. In 1952, Ralph Ellison wrote about the social and intellectual challenges of African Americans in his book called Invisible Man. Similarly, President Obama was ridiculed by Clint Eastwood as being invisible, which begs the question, “What qualifies him to be our President?” I guess that being an author, a Harvard-trained Lawyer, as well as a former Senator isn’t enough since he’s not a White man. Indeed, being an influential Black person with a college degree is atypical to some people’s perceptions about Black people. As a second example, some Black men who should be referred to as say “Dr.” are called “Mr..” Now one might give someone the benefit of doubt by concluding, “Well s/he didn’t know.” To which I would respond, “Well how come s/he didn’t ask about who you are first?”
Being called “Mr.” instead of “leader,” “visionary,” or “change agent,” because someone doesn’t view Black men and Black boys as such, will always feel like an insult, a grievance that readily provokes disputation. Being called “Mr.” will always make Black men and Black boys feel less important when their counterparts are referred to as “Activist,” “Philanthropist,” and “Social Entrepreneur,” among other titles. Today, Black men and Black boys are still negatively represented in media as being hypersexualized, violent, and irresponsible. As a result, people of all races don’t care about Black men and Black boys today, just like White people didn’t care about them during the hangings by lynch mobs during the Jim Crow era of the 1960s. Today, people should be boycotting the music artists, business owners, and thought leaders who are not using their influence to end social injustice. To illustrate my point, actor Boris Kodjoe is quoted for once saying, “When you have a platform it’s not a privilege, it’s a responsibility.” Undoubtedly, people with influence should be held accountable for using their social influence to advocate for social changes that will benefit their stakeholders. While there is some social unrest today about the killings of Black men and Black boys by the police, the general public disregards this public health issue as not being their personal problem. Case in point, several murderers have not been charged with and incarcerated for their crime of killing Black men and Black boys- all because people don’t care. While my claims may be dismissed, denying the existence of overt and covert diabolicalness is a conspiracy in itself.
On the other hand, social activists who started their advocacy efforts during the 1960s, or Black men and Black boys who were born around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, feel that my generation is not advocating for social justice. To support their argument, they usually reference the hypersexualization of music videos and the disproportionate number of Black men and Black boys who experience their first-time arrest before reaching the age of twenty-five. However, I completely disagree with the sentiment that my generation is not advocating for social equity. If nothing more, these negative examples support why Black men and Black boys should be mentored. Furthermore, as an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., I can attest to maintaining excellence in scholarship and service to the community. Of course, my fraternity Brothers and I are not reinforcing the negative stereotypes of Black men and Black boys; we are trying to change negativity into positivity through our service to the community. Additionally, I can name at least thirty Black men who are also younger than thirty and are doing big things to benefit the social plight of Black men and Black boys. At 25, people tell me that I am very mature for my age because of my commitment to helping others. However, I simply view my social responsibility to helping others as the standard for Black men and Black boys.
For many reasons, people often refer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the epitome of “what [Black men and Black boys] should be doing.” However, social problems do not look the same today as they did during earlier decades. For example, racism is no longer politically correct with the advent of new laws meant to lessen the effects of the historical significance of race in the U.S.. For this reason, people’s prejudices, or stereotypical assumptions, about each other are expressed privately more often now than before civil rights laws were enacted. Since the way that U.S. social problems look has changed, the efforts of Black men and Black boys to address them look differently as well. More specifically, the U.S. socio-political circumstances have changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The social activism of Black men and Black boys today occurs through illustrations on social media platforms and the provision of social services, in addition to traditional social protests. Therefore, there’s no lack of social activism in my generation, it’s that Black men and Black boys aren’t given credit for what they do. For example, I participated in a nonviolent social protest on Tuesday, November 25, 2014. I walked two miles with over 200 people, most of whom were college students under the age of twenty-five years old down the middle of a busy street in Philadelphia, PA. Five helicopters circled us overhead and there were about 50 police officers in the area who were blocking off streets and ensuring our safety while protesting peacefully. However, this social protest was not shown on any local or national news reports. While we didn’t do this for a pat on the back, this example serves as just one of many numerous ways that Black men and Black boys are advocating for social change. With this in mind, people should call my generation of Black men and Black boys social change agents or social activists because of our social advocacy efforts.
In conclusion, it’s important that people be addressed by how they present themselves professionally. There are no second chances at a first impression, so Black men and Black boys must take advantage of every opportunity to educate people. The media gets an overwhelming number of opportunities to serve as the library for people’s negative attitudes towards Black men and Black boys. Therefore, Black men and Black boys have a social responsibility to debunk stereotypes through their conversations and social action. In order for Black men and Black boys to be taken seriously, they must acknowledge the new status quo and overwhelm people with positives examples of their thinking and behavior, so that we aren’t just called “Mr.”